Reflecting on life through art

January 31, 2022

The new campus exhibition “Picturing Places and Spaces” features artworks spanning several centuries that are brought together to reflect on the respite the outdoors has offered during the pandemic.

UM-Dearborn faculty, staff and students can visit the Stamelos Gallery Center to see the new "Picturing Places and Spaces" exhibit. Photos by Sarah Tuxbury.
UM-Dearborn faculty, staff and students can visit the Stamelos Gallery Center to see the new "Picturing Places and Spaces" exhibit. Photos by Sarah Tuxbury.

Artist Alfred Sisley captured light reflecting on the Loing River in his lithograph from 1896. Hiroshige, a Japanese ukiyo-e master, uses the color woodblock printing technique to feature a serene mountain snow scene. Giovanni Battista Piranesi etched images of antiquities that he studied in Rome.

These are works on display in the new Stamelos Gallery Center exhibition “Picturing Places and Spaces.” The 41 pieces on display — a variety of media that are international to local in scope — are all brought together in the 21st century to reflect on the respite the outdoors has offered during the pandemic.

The new exhibit at the Stamelos Gallery Center, located on the first floor of the Mardigian Library, is open to U-M community members now through April 1.

Art History major Brittanie Sharp said COVID’s onset made people intensely aware of the spaces of their homes and if there are nearby walking paths or public parks.“Something COVID did was help us notice the world around us more. That’s what stayed open and available. I went on a lot more hikes and walks and started to notice more things like the shape of treetops.”

The displayed works come from the Stamelos Gallery Center’s permanent collection and from the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Although the artists were from a variety of places — there’s art from Europe. Asia and North America — and pieces were created from different inspiration points, the works are brought together under themes of place that include Famous PlacesCity Spaces and Sites of Solitude.

As a part of Professor Susan Erickson’s Art History Capstone Seminar, Sharp and her classmates curated content and assisted with installation for “Picturing Places and Spaces.” 

Art history students have helped create exhibits for decades — but this time students learned about museums, curation, and installation in a one semester practice-based learning capstone experience. The new capstone was created to help ensure students got a more complete picture of what it’s like to work in a museum.

Professor Susan Erickson, right, takes a photo of student Diana Guzman at the opening of the "Picturing Places and Spaces" exhibit.
Professor Susan Erickson, right, takes a photo of student Diana Guzman at the opening of the "Picturing Places and Spaces" exhibit.

“We’ve brainstormed aspects of the exhibit, researched the works, created a design for the museum space, learned how to install exhibit pieces safely and more,” she said. “Anytime there was a challenge, the students were charged to help find a solution.”

To help them see how professionals handle challenges, Erickson arranged Zoom presentations by U-M’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology Director of Education Cathy Persons and the University of Michigan Museum of Art Curator of Asian Art Natsu Oyobe. They also went to the Henry Ford Estate to see the preservation work in progress and traveled to the Toledo Museum of Art to go behind the scenes of a new exhibit installation, visit the archives and view the art library.

Stamelos Gallery Center Director/ Art Curator Laura Cotton and Registrar/ Gallery Assistant Autumn Muir expanded upon the field trips and what the students learned in the classroom by providing interactive opportunities for the  students to come into the Stamelos Galley and work alongside them as museum professionals.

Cotton said the Stamelos Galley Center, which opened in 2019, has all the amenities needed to borrow and display fragile art pieces — including museum quality climate controls, security features and adjustable LED lighting to protect especially sensitive materials. And the gallery staff showed students how those space attributes work and talked about their importance. 

Cotton said showing UM-Dearborn students the ropes of museum work energizes her. She also enjoys hearing what information the students undercover about the pieces during their research.

“It’s fun to converse and interact in the gallery with the students, and read through their research on the pieces — some of which we’ve had in our collection for decades — and see the art in a whole new way, from the perspectives of the students,” she said. “The students did a wonderful job of putting together text labels for the works that are interesting, relatable and informative.”

Along with interesting bits of information, Erickson said the exhibit also offers a bit of escapism.

“We have started to return to the familiar places and routines of daily life, but many of us are still dreaming of traveling again.This exhibit gives a way to ‘visit’ a new place or see our own worlds with fresh eyes. This exhibition explores both real and imagined places and spaces as depicted by a selection of international, national, and local artists.” There are remarkable works on loan from the University of Michigan Museum of Art, but the majority of the pieces are part of the UM- Dearborn collection.

The capstone experience isn’t just for art-focused students, Erickson said. The course also includes people on a variety of career paths. 

Professor Susan Erickson, far right, and the students in her Art History Capstone course helped create the newest Stamelos Gallery Center exhibit, "Picturing Places and Spaces."
Professor Susan Erickson, far right, and the students in her Art History Capstone course helped create the newest Stamelos Gallery Center exhibit, "Picturing Places and Spaces."

Senior Frank Carter is an electrical engineering major. Carter said a by-chance elective course in art history showed him how lessons learned in art history could complement his electrical engineering knowledge. He is now working toward having Art History become a second major.

“My art courses have taught me the importance of paying attention to the details, while also keeping my mind open to possibilities. It’s a mix of using both your left and right brain, and I like that,” he said. “When our class worked on the art installation part of the class, it reminded me of building a power grid for a city. It needs to be designed well with the right amount of power — and you better not get any wires crossed.”

And then there are students who were always considering an art history career. For junior Diana Guzman, it affirmed what she returned to school for after working in the finance industry for 30-plus years. “I’ve always been drawn to art. But I changed my career course once I started my family. Now that my children are older, I’ve decided to pursue my passion.”

For senior Nicole Gonzales, it helped her see what career possibilities are out there. She said museum work may be the right path for her.

Student Nicole Gonzales
Student Nicole Gonzales is interested in pursuing a career as a museum curator after her Art History capstone course experience.

You use logical thinking and creative expression in one space. In doing that, you make something beautiful that has meaning and a message,” she said. “I think our class is really proud of what we created. I know I am. And I want to continue doing work like this.”

Professor Erickson and her students would like to give a special thanks to Laura Cotton and Autumn Muir, as well as Associate Provost and Mardigian Library Director Maureen Linker, Talent Gateway Director Laurie Sutch, Talent Gateway Marketing and Events Coordinator Meghan Lavelle and Mardigian Library Systems Administrator Patrick Armatis.

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.